Blog Action Day is an annual event where very many bloggers discuss exactly the same thing in the hopes that someone will pay attention. Today 7500+ blogs will discuss climate change.
Climate change is a science which is about as old as evolution. It has been known for over a century that atmospheric CO2 acts as a heat blanket in the atmosphere to keep the surface warm. The way it works is that CO2 lets in short wavelengths of visible light from the sun. This light gets absorbed at the surface which heats up. At the surface temperature, everything radiates in the infrared (think, infrared cameras). This infrared radiation is absorbed by CO2 and other greenhouse gases. This heats up the troposphere, which is the part of the atmosphere that ranges from the ground and 15km up. As the troposphere heats up, it radiates energy back to the surface making it warmer. It also radiates energy back out into space. This is why it is called global warming. Are you with me so far?
If not here’s a simple analogy. The atmospheric system works almost like a blanket. I use layers of blankets on my bed. If I get too hot, I can take a layer off. If I get too cold, I can add another blanket. Blankets radiate part of the energy my body generates downwards again. If my body generates a constant amount of heat, like the sun does, the number and thickness of the blankets become important for my overall comfort. It can even be a matter of life and death. Imagine 5 wool blankets in the middle of the summer.
Adding CO2 to the atmosphere is like adding blankets to the bed. It makes the surface warmer. This is not all that is happening. As mentioned above, it also changes the troposhere, where the weather happens. This is the reason that hurricanes are on the increase. There is simply more energy in the troposphere and this makes for stronger and more frequent storms. This is not good since our civilization owns a lot of waterfront property which will (I say will, not may) get destroyed. I am sure I will not hear any protests from New Orleans on that one.
It also means that overall weather patterns will change. For instance, the subtropical zones will spread. As you may know the subtropics, and Norcal is right on the edge of the subtropical zone, are the brown regions on Earth right between the the tropical and the temperate regions. They are brown because it rains very little. If they widen, the green zones have to decrease. The green zones are where we grow our food. Of course food does not grow on water and the right temperature only. If it were so, we could merely migrate our farms upwards. However, plants also require topsoil. Topsoil takes thousands of years to form naturally (fortunately, you can make your own very quickly with composting, but can you really compost enough to make zillions of tons of soil?) and the topsoil you see today was formed between the last ice age 10000 years ago and today. Topsoil does not grow legs and walk towards the polar regions which means that the plants won’t move which again means that the animals won’t move. Which means they will die. Under a wait-and-see-business-as-usual we are looking at a species extinction of about 50% by the time those who are born today move to Florida (at which point the Keys will be underwater). The polar bear will be one for the history books.
In the stock market timing is difficult. In climate modeling, trigger points are the difficult thing. Take a bottle of cola. It contains phosphate which is acidic making it a good cleaner as well as making it rot your teeth. In soda there is a CO2 buffer which keeps the pH level around 6. If you shake out the CO2, thus removing the buffer, the pH drops to 2.5 and your teeth start falling out.
Similarly, the Earth has many buffer systems. The oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and they have been doing so to a large extent. This decreases the pH from neutral (7). This is what is killing the coral reefs. Of course you can only absorb so much CO2 in the oceans and once this is no longer possible, it all stays in the atmosphere and acts as the blanket described above.
There is also a lot of CO2 frozen in and stored in the permafrost in the arctic regions. If this thaws, due to a temperature increase, it will be released. This is a serious trigger point.
Why is this a serious trigger point. Currently, humans are still in control of global warming. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for 1000 years. This means that the CO2 I release by having a BBQ and eating hotdogs will contribute to making the weather systems more energetic and make storms more destructive and create extinction and so on … for a thousand years. Talk about instant gratification relative to long term costs. However, I could choose not to release any more CO2. This means I am in control.
To solve the problem of CO2 emissions they all have to stop. That means zero emissions is the only viable solution unless you don’t plan to have children or you otherwise do not care what happens to the planet after you die. If you intend to die before 2050 and you live in a developed country, you should be able to live a pretty good life.
Climate change has turned into a political issue. This is fine insofar that we, those who are old enough to vote right now have taken it into our hands to decide the destiny for the future of humanity as well as the future all other known life in the universe. If we are supposed to be the stewards of the world, well, we’re doing a criminally embarrassing job of it. But we still have a choice although that choice is slipping through our hands as the politicians keep delaying the decision in the hopes that science might conform to the political or economical situation rather than the other way around.
Current CO2 levels are at
386394 ppm and adding about 2ppm per year and growing. This is not good. They are still growing because we have not taken sufficient action yet. Sufficient action means stopping all emissions and finding ways to reduce present levels. Now, you may remember the trigger point I discussed above. If just 10% of the permafrost melts, I am sure you have heard of melting glaciers and the likelihood that the north pole will be gone, that is completely melt during the summer months within the next decade, it could release another 80ppm. This corresponds to 35 years of current industrial activity. At that point the climate system will be out of our control and we will be beyond redemption.
Originally posted 2009-10-15 06:04:31.